fortune tellers

UFT predicts small gains ahead of next week's test score release

Schools won’t know for sure how their students performed on last spring’s state tests until next week, but that hasn’t stopped the teachers union’s speculation.

The United Federation of Teachers jumped into the prediction game on Friday with a five-page memo that forecasts a small overall improvement in both math and English scores.

Last year, 29 percent of city students who took the tests were deemed proficient in math and 26 percent were proficient in English, one-year drops of 30 and 20 points, respectively. The steep plunge was widely anticipated because of new tests aligned to the Common Core standards.

The UFT’s “reasonable guess” for this year is that proficiency rates will jump by two points in reading and writing, to 28 percent, and three points in math, to 33 percent. It attributes that to teachers having greater familiarity with the tests and having a full year with appropriate curriculum materials.

But the union also suggests that politics could play a heavy hand in the results as well.

State education officials have been under heavy criticism because of last year’s test scores and they now have “a strong interest in showing improvement after coming under sustained fire,” union officials wrote. (A panel of teachers, administrators and professors set the passing scores and Commissioner John King can either accept or reject their recommendations.) Too big of an improvement, however, “would suggest manipulation,” union officials write.

King has accepted the panel’s recommendations for the past two years and defended the cut-scoring process, as it’s known, as more transparent than before he took over as schools chief. State education officials declined to comment on UFT’s memo.

The union’s “backgrounder” emails ahead of test score releases are a recurring tradition, but this year’s toned-down version reflects both the City Hall’s close relationship with the union and the fact that this year’s tests won’t see such dramatic drops, unlike last year when the Common Core-aligned exams made their debut.

Last year, the UFT used the expected drops to slam the education legacy of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who consistently said his job performance should be judged by student achievement data. (New York City ended up outperforming many other districts.)

*State officials raised the bar for "proficient" means.    ** New Common Core-aligned tests.   *** UFT's forecast for 2013-2014 scores.
*State officials raised the bar for “proficient” means. ** New Common Core-aligned tests. *** UFT’s forecast for 2013-2014 scores.

“More Bad News Likely for Bloomberg,” the UFT’s 2013 headline read.

For this year’s tests, which came in the middle of a school year that straddled a mayoral transition from Bloomberg to Bill de Blasio, the union is taking a decidedly more measured tone. Its headline this year read “State Test Results Forecast.”

The tests have decidedly lower stakes than in previous years. In New York City, students won’t be made to repeat a grade primarily because of their testing performance, while most teachers and principals won’t be negatively impacted on evaluations as a result of their students’ scores.

The UFT isn’t the only education stakeholder readying their constituencies for the imminent release of the test scores.

The state teachers union announced on Friday that it would be demonstrating outside the State Education Department building in “protest against privatization.” In their crosshairs is testing giant Pearson, which has a $32 million contract with the state to create the grades three through eight math and English exams.

Schools are also bracing for the results, although principals this week downplayed the scrutiny. Emolior Academy Principal Derick Spaulding said that he’s hoping that higher scores will naturally follow another year of working with the Common Core.

“When they’re given any assessment, they should do relatively well by default because they’re already addressing a lot of what Common Core is asking them to do,” Spaulding said.

“I just hope that my kids show growth and that’s the main thing,” Anne Marie Malcolm, of the School of Business, Finance and Entrepreneurship in Bedford-Stuyvesant.

In past years, Bloomberg battled the union’s attempts to interpret the test scores in their favor. This year, a city spokeswoman did not comment directly on the union’s takeaways.


call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”